Are You in Fuel Poverty?
Fuel poverty is a relatively new term, described for people that are in serious debt to their energy suppliers. And fresh fears are emerging than millions of people are heading towards fuel poverty as an estimated £478 million is now thought to be owed to energy suppliers in the UK alone. Studies show that around 4 million households are, as it stands today, currently in debt to their suppliers by an average of £131 each, but the figure could be higher. This is 4% higher than last year and a massive increase of 15% higher than in 2008. It is believed that soaring gas and electricity costs are mainly to blame, but also the ever rising costs of living, petrol prices and the freeze on salaries that are forcing people who normally pay their bills on time, to now have to juggle payments. And the problem with owing money to one fuel provider is that it is then difficult to switch to another one with a lower pricing tariff. You have to clear your debt with your original provider before you can move onto another supplier and this puts most people off looking for cheaper options, leading customers into a ‘catch-22′ situation. Customers are now facing a real choice between actually heating their homes of feeding themselves, and in 2012 Britain this is scandalous.
So is there any light at the end of the tunnel if you owe money to your fuel provider and have no way of clearing your debts? Actually there is but the energy suppliers are not quick to tell you about it but we here at Shoppersbase will. Many major suppliers, including British Gas, EDF, e-on, Scottish Power, npower and Scottish & Southern Electricity, have what is called support for their ‘vulnerable’ customers. That means, customers that are on a low income, in receipt of certain benefits, or elderly customers have different kinds of options open to them, including social tariffs which can offer discounted bills, energy efficiency advice, debt and income advice can be offered to help customers manage their energy use and reduce their bills, many suppliers also offer grants to vulnerable customers who are in debt and in special circumstances debts are even written off. All suppliers offer a Priority Service Register (PSR) to provide peace of mind to vulnerable customers. Alongside their tailored, individual schemes, energy suppliers also fund the Home Heat Helpline, a service providing advice and assistance to those who may be struggling with their fuel bills.
The Helpline – 0800 33 66 99 – was founded in 2005 and has become a cornerstone service for low-income and vulnerable households in urgent need of help and advice. The Home Heat Helpline also handles calls from carers, care professionals and advice agencies. To find out more about the Helpline, visit their website.
Here is an example of the support you can expect to receive from one major energy supplier – Scottish & Southern Electricity (SSE). SSE currently undertakes a vast quantity of activity designed to help their vulnerable customers. They have created a flagship social tariff called ‘Energyplus Care’ which offers the deepest discount (currently 30% off standard prices) to vulnerable customers available in the UK. You will get this discount if you are spending 20% or more of your income on energy bills. If you are spending between 15 and 19% you can apply for a £100 rebate, and those spending between 10 and 14% a £50 rebate. Outside of these core discounts, they also offer a trust fund, ‘SSE Sustainable’, which provides tailor-made payment arrangements, discounted appliances, benefits-entitlement checks and debt-write-offs on a case by case basis taking account of energy bill affordability. They also participate in a range of energy efficiency programmes, estimating that to date they have assisted 735,000 households with cavity wall insulation and loft insulation.
So if you feel that your fuel bills are becoming too much for you to pay and you are struggling to keep your head above water, remember, first off you are not the only one, and secondly, there are many ways that your energy company can help you. So give them a call and see how you fare. Any success stories please do let us know.